Weekly D'Var

 June 8 ~ 4 Sivan 5784

Dear Congregational Family,


Lessons from Bamidbar

Today’s sedrah named, in Hebrew, Bamidbar, begins the book of Bamidbar. “Bamidbar” means “In the Desert”. Why is this book, fourth of the five books of the Torah, called “Numbers” in English ?

The answer seems simple: the first sedrah Bamidbar begins with a detailed census of the Israelites after receiving the Ten Commandments and before they start on their journey to Israel – the Promised Land.
Reading a census sounds a bit dull and not very consequential– but in this case it introduces us to one of the most fascinating and unheralded miracles of world history.
After a simple introductory sentence placing the Israelites in the Sinai Desert “in the first of the second month of the second year after the Exodus from Egypt”, the sedrah continues in a dry, straightforward way directing Moses:
“Si’u et rosh kol adat b’nai Yisrael l’mishpichotam l’vait avotam …”
Meaning: Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their families according to their fathers’ households.
The usual translation, “Take a census”, does not properly translate the command “Siu”. It is the imperative form of the Hebrew word for ”raise”, as in Raise your heads high – you are free.
Wasn’t this a large group of slaves who had just escaped from a country that enslaved them for generations and tried to destroy them? Throughout history a slave had no rights, and was subject to being sold or given away which robbed them of family identity, history and tradition.
Yet in a simple way we are told that contrary to what might have been expected of this people, they had maintained their identity, their family lines and even their identities with their tribes and tribal leaders who were princes. The unique tribes, each tribe the descendants of one of the 12 sons of Jacob, even had banners to identify their tribal units.
It was up to Moses to put an end to the psychological/emotional slavery which continued to imbue their perception of life. The sedrah gave him a framework to do that.
The sedrah lists the order of the tribes in three different sequences:
1. In the listing of the leaders they are listed with the tribes. Can’t you hear the shoferot and the cheers of each tribe as their leader is called? After so many years of slavery they kept their heritage and were now free and could be proud of who and what they were.
2. In the actual census of the tribes Gad is placed with the B’Nai Leah, which indicates the friendship and respect that should be shown between the tribes. They were individual tribes, but still one grand people.
3. The third is the arrangement of the tribes around the Mishkan.
Ramban explains that Gd commanded that the Mishkan, the tent with the holy Ark, was to be in the middle of the tribes, as a constant reminder of the miracle at Mount Sinai. This fulfilled Gd’s commandment [sedra Teruma in Sh’mot 25:8] –” V’Asu li Mikdsh” – they shall build a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell among them.
For their travels through the desert, the 12 tribes were positioned three on each side around the Mishkan. They were to march in order through the desert on the way to Erets Yisrael. They were one people, with each individual equally important. The centrality of the Mishkan in the midst of the 12 tribes showed the unity of the people and, as well, that God was equally and directly accessible to all Jews in their own right.
There is a Midrash that the tribe of Judah on the eastern side of the Mishkan, walked backward when the Children of Israel marched through the desert so as not to turn their backs on the Mishkan. In today’s world we call that respect.
This all sounds cute and academic, so you might just ask so what?
Often simple things in the Torah carry meaning through future generations.
With this organization of the 12 tribes surrounding the Mishkan, and the people identified by their family, parentage, and ancestors, all presented through a seemingly straightforward and simple census, we have in this sedrah a means of remembering what must be maintained to keep Israel a great nation.
We are proud of and we prize our Jewish heritage and traditions, even as every day we pray that with God’s help and blessing, all those in captivity will be free and be able to once again rejoice with us.

Just as the sedrah directed, all Jews today are united, regardless of political or social position, in mourning on Yom HaZikaron, in celebrating on Yom HaAtzmaut, and in praising God for the miracle of Yom Yerushalaim.

Israel will continue to pray for and to celebrate freedom for all of K’Lal Yisrael and to carry on our heritage with honor. We hope those who lead Israel now and in the future will always remember the lessons of this sedrah, that K’lal Yirael means all Jews in honoring our families, our heritage, and our traditions, and understanding what made Israel a great nation.

With God’s help it is up to all of us to continue the miracles reflected in this sedrah.

Shabbat Shalom

Happy Unbirthday,

Sol Gutstein


Sol Gutsein

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